Research Studies Link Substance Abuse and Stress

April 13, 2008

Stress affects us all at one point or another. But for the recovering drug addict, they are especially vulnerable to the affects of stress.

According research done by the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), recovered drug addicts may find that stress is a powerful trigger to use drugs once again – even if they haven’t had the trigger to use drugs for quite some time.Stressful situations such as job stress or relationship problems can make the drug addict especially vulnerable. The study has shown that those suffering from substance abuse would relapse from what many would consider to be mild stress triggers. The research points to addicts being much more sensitive to stress than nonaddicts to stress.

It is thought that this hypersensitivity exists even before the drug abuse begins in the person’s life. Another thought is that it could simply be a side effect from chronic drug addiction on the brain – or perhaps a combination of the dual factors. Dr. Kreek, explains that the nervous system of an addict has this hypersensitivity to not only chemically induced stress, but also to emotional stress.

When someone goes through a stressful situation, they go through a cycle that releases the stress hormones. When they experience a stressful event, the hormone corticotrophin releasing factor is released from the hypothalamus (part of the brain). The CRF then travels through blood vessels into the pituary gland right below the brain where it releases a second hormone, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH). ACTH then goes through the blood to the adrenal glands that are right on top of the kidneys and release other hormones, primarily cortisol. The cortisol then travels back to the hypothalalmus and the pituary and inhibits the release of more CRF and ACTH. So if the person doesn’t feel the event is stressful, the stress hormone cycle will stop. But if the event still seems to be stressful, the hormone cycle continues.

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